The uniform net capital rule is a rule created by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") in 1975 to regulate directly the ability of broker-dealers to meet their financial obligations to customers and other creditors. Broker-dealers are companies that trade securities for customers (i.e., brokers) and for their own accounts (i.e., dealers).
The rule requires those firms to value their securities at market prices and to apply to those values a haircut (i.e., a discount) based on each security's risk characteristics. The haircut values of securities are used to compute the liquidation value of a broker-dealer's assets to determine whether the broker-dealer holds enough liquid assets to pay all its non-subordinated liabilities and to still retain a "cushion" of required liquid assets (i.e., the "net capital" requirement) to ensure payment of all obligations owed to customers if there is a delay in liquidating the assets.
On April 28, 2004, the SEC voted unanimously to permit the largest broker-dealers (i.e., those with "tentative net capital" of more than $5 billion) to apply for exemptions from this established "haircut" method. Upon receiving SEC approval, those firms were permitted to use mathematical models to compute the haircuts on their securities based on international standards used by commercial banks.